When Obama’s motorcade rocketed around San Francisco on Monday, very few locals even noticed his presence, and fewer still cared. The crowds awaiting him at each presidential fundraiser were by far the smallest I’d seen in over five years of covering his visits here. Ticket sales to at least one of the events were so sluggish that prices had to be lowered to fill the empty seats. Out in the street, rubberneckers and protesters had dwindled to the bare minimum. This is what happens when a hero disappoints: you don’t turn on him in anger, but rather just tune him out and move on to other interests.
Yet even with the small turnout, there was a theme amongst Obama’s protesters/supporters (supportesters?): They didn’t want him to change his political agenda — instead, they demanded that he assume dictatorial powers so that he could finally implement the radical plans with which they already agree. The message of the day was: Stop dilly-dallying around, Mr. President: Ignore the Constitution and just make The Revolution happen, as you promised!
That message would be disturbing enough all on its own, but it becomes much more disturbing when you suspect (as I do) that many of these pro-totalitarian protesters were astroturfed. In other words: Is the White House scripting/encouraging/guiding protesters on the left to beg him to become a dictator? So that later, he can explain, “I had no choice — the people demanded it!” Or is Obama simply telegraphing to his supporters that they should not be so disappointed when he throws in the towel and gives up even trying to achieve anything in his second term?
Let’s see what happened on Monday, and you can judge for yourself.
Obama’s first fundraiser of the day was at the Betty Ong Recreation Center, on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown. To deflect the constant criticism that he merely treats the city as a big ATM machine, this time he decided to give one “substantive” speech during the visit, on the topic of immigration. About 40 immigration activists showed up to — well, “protest” isn’t really the right word.
The leaders of the group handed out press releases to anyone who was interested.
As you can see in this zoomed-in image, they were urging Obama to “use his executive power” to simply declare immigration laws into or out of existence, bypassing the Congress and the democratic process.
Inside the event, the exact same thing happened — on stage! One of the human props standing behind the president during his speech suddenly started shouting at Obama to change immigration laws by imperial decree. Obama turned around and allowed the heckler to speak his mind, and then even let him remain on stage as Obama patiently explained that, as frustrating as it might be to activists, the president can’t simply wave a magic wand and make laws disappear. Needless to say, Obama was roundly praised for hearing the guy out, and for allowing him to stay, and then giving him a wise answer.
Was this simply a case of a human prop gone wild? Well, as was obvious to many viewers (watch the interchange in the video above and come to your own conclusions), the whole interaction was likely a scripted set-up: the heckler was a stand-in for all the activists to Obama’s left who are frustrated that Obama isn’t more “forceful” in exercising unconstitutional executive decrees; Obama’s response was not just to the one guy on stage but to all his frustrated allies on the far left. And of course it was all pre-arranged to make Obama look reasonable and heroic.
(The heckler, Ju Hong, claims that his outburst was spontaneous and unplanned; but considering that he was invited on-stage by the White House specifically because he was an Obama-supporting illegal immigrant, and considering how Obama not only let him go unpunished but then repeatedly used the outburst as a reference point in his scripted speech, Hong’s claims of “unrehearsed” are dubious.)
We’ll return to this first fundraiser in a moment, but let’s now jump ahead to the second fundraiser of the day, just an hour later at the new SF Jazz Center in the city’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.
This was a traditional fundraiser — no policy speeches, no human props, no press allowed. Just adoring devotees paying money to bask in his presence for a few minutes.
But here too, the same series of events unfolded exactly as they had at the first fundraiser: someone in the audience began heckling Obama to use “executive orders” to push the progressive agenda through — and once again Obama patiently explained to his most ardent fans that he just can’t do that, as much as they might want him to:
“Somebody keeps on yelling, ‘executive order,’” Obama said. “I’m going to actually pause on this issue because a lot of people have been saying this lately on every problem, which is just, ‘Sign an executive order and we can pretty much do anything and basically nullify Congress.’” When people started applauding, Obama said, “Wait, wait, wait. Before everybody starts clapping, that’s not how it works. We’ve got this Constitution, we’ve got this whole thing about separation of powers. So there is no short-cut to politics, and there’s no short-cut to democracy. We have to win on the merits of the argument with the American people, as laborious as it seems sometimes.”
Critics online immediately pounced on Obama’s claims of political impotence, pointing out that he has indeed repeatedly used executive orders to bypass the will of Congress, something he now says is unconstitutional.
Outside was a slightly larger cluster of our old buddies, the anti-Keystone Pipeline activists who have tailed Obama at every public event for the last two years.
But here too the protesters, who were in essential agreement with Obama on every issue, had one demand: That Obama “alone” set national energy policy, bypassing Congress, the democratic process, and the will of the people. Just like the immigration activists at the first fundraiser, and just like the hecklers at both events, these supportesters were frustrated that Obama hasn’t yet fully enacted all of his promised radical agenda via standard constitutional methods, so their proposed solution is for him to start ruling by decree — or “executive order” as it’s called, to make it sound more palatable.
But here’s the thing: as I noted during an earlier Obama visit to San Francisco, the anti-Keystone “protesters” are not opposed to his agenda — they are in fact part of his agenda, bit players in the White House’s endless political theater, giving him cover to make unpopular decisions, citing public opinion (as evidenced by these ginned-up “protests”) to justify his one-sided actions:
This explains how people who voted for Obama can be out in the street seemingly to protest “against” him. Turns out this whole protest was nothing more play-acting for the cameras, a group of faux protesters colluding with Obama to create a Potemkin “movement” which he can then cite as justification for making an unpopular decision he already wanted to make anyway. “I had no choice — there’s a mass movement against this pipeline! I must bow to the will of the people.”
I find it very disturbing that actual grassroots protesters would be willing to dispense with the U.S. Constitution and welcome a dictatorship simply in order to get their way on this or that specific political issue. (It might seem like a good idea at first, but that way lies tyranny.) Yet I find it even more disturbing that the Obama administration could be astroturfing (as in the case of the heckler) or at a minimum encouraging and facilitating (as with the anti-Keystone activists) the very “protesters” who call on him to assume totalitarian powers.
These socialized medicine advocates outside the second event don’t seem very well-funded, and so might be true grassroots protesters, but I’m quite sure that they too would be overjoyed if Obama simply made H.R. 676 become law by presidential fiat, even if so doing was unconstitutional and meant the end of representative democracy.
There are two ways to interpret these bizarre theatrical skits involving Obama and his supporters.
Innocent Theory #1 is that Obama is essentially announcing to his base via these symbolic heckling exchanges that he no longer has the political will to issue as many power-grabbing executive orders as he’s done up til now, and that The Revolution has been put back on hold. “Ram through the progressive wish list with brazen executive orders? Why, I couldn’t do that (any more, at least) — it’d be unconstitutional!” Theory #1, if true, would certainly be in response to plummeting poll numbers and the sobering reality that the Republicans are now almost certain to maintain control of the House of Representatives in 2014, meaning Obama is conceding that he has been effectively stymied, and is thus warning his supporters not to get their hopes up.
Sinister Theory #2 is that Obama is staging these repeated calls for him to assume dictatorial powers as a way to later justify his actions when he amps up and redoubles his unconstitutional executive orders. “I wanted to be a passive and humble president, I really did — but the public demanded that I seize power, so I had to obey the people!” Theory #2, if true, would be based on the fact that Obama is a lame duck president and thus immune from any need to remain “electable”: He could basically do whatever he wanted for the next three years, however extreme, and “get away with it” since he never has to run for office again and Congress obviously will never impeach him at this stage of the game.
To conservatives prone to fearing the worst from Obama I ask: Do you think Theory #1 is correct, or Theory #2?
To progressives calling on Obama to rule via executive order I ask: What’s more important — preserving our system of government, or winning political victories at any cost?
That’s the real dividing line in American politics today.